Where DC-area pandemic homebuyers pushed prices up too much

A typical home in Ocean City sells for $160,000 more than it did three years ago, according to Bright MLS. (Getty Images/Patrick Smith)

The pandemic had a lot of Americans looking to get out of cities, for more space and for remote work, including in the Washington region. And some further-out exurbs and rural areas saw prices rise more quickly than ever before.

The Maryland and Delaware beach communities have seen sales slow this year, but prices are still rising and had some eye-popping pandemic gains.

In Worcester County, Maryland, and Sussex County, Delaware, “We saw home price growth at an unprecedented level. And this was driven primarily by second home purchases,” said Lisa Sturtevant, chief economist at listing service Bright MLS.

Bright MLS says the median price of what has sold in Sussex County — which includes Rehoboth, Bethany and Lewes beaches — between 2019 and 2022 has risen 54%.

In Worcester County, Maryland, a typical home in Ocean City sells for $160,000 more than it did three years ago.

Not every Washingtonian who could afford to escape headed to the beach. Some drivable rural areas saw unprecedented buyer interest.

Prices have risen 45% in Warren County, Virginia, in the past three years, and more than 52% in Shenandoah County, Virginia. Page County, Virginia, has seen sales prices nearly double in the past three years.

“A lot of that had to do with folks from Northern Virginia who were looking to move further out in the pandemic,” Sturtevant said. “And what we see now are home prices are just much higher than would be supported by the at-place residents.”

She does not think those prices are sustainable.

“We’re going to prices have to settle back to a more typical range that is more affordable for the people who live and work in those communities,” she said.

Bright MLS does not predict falling prices for the broader regional market, but does expect to see year-over-year price declines in some of those rural areas where prices got ahead of themselves.

Jeff Clabaugh

Jeff Clabaugh has spent 20 years covering the Washington region's economy and financial markets for WTOP as part of a partnership with the Washington Business Journal, and officially joined the WTOP newsroom staff in January 2016.

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